The Pool in the Glade

Dearest R,

Springtide

 
I took a respite from the day’s experiences beside a tree, upon the edge of a lush glade. When I had restored my breath, a glint caught my eye. I looked to this direction and perceived a family of birds lifting into the sky, a soft mist falling from their wings. Realising a sudden thirst, I took up my feet and moved to inspect where the birds had come, hoping to find water.
 
There was indeed a large pool, marked by a curious placard fixed to the ground; it read ‘The Waters Perilous’. Whatever the warning, the water was sweet; remarkably I was slaked with the first draught. (I wish had a pouch to fill with this mysterious drink.) I set about to cool my face and clean my eyes  and forehead of the perspiration and grime of the lengthy walking.
 
The Sword in the Pool

The Sword in the Pool

As I wiped my mouth I saw what I had not before: the water lay in a sheer hole, and was clear as crystal, such that I could see the bottom as clearly as seeing the bottom of a drinking glass; and within the water was something metallic and magnificently fashioned. I dove into the pool. Indeed, it was a sword, plunged into a stone — nearby a threshold cut into the side of the earth. I tried my hand at the sword and found that it would glide easily into my possession. But having no sword belt, and no way to know if the weapon was meant for anyone, I left it in its place.

 
Meanwhile, the doorway into the earth sung to me. I returned to the surface to fill my lungs, and then swam to the doorway. It was dark, with no way of telling if my breath could hold to the end. The cavern was foreboding, and my heart quickened as one hearing the trumpet to charge into certain death. I looked to the sword again, noticing now that light exuded from the blade. I returned to the surface for another breath and decided. Submerging again, I took up the sword and found it would at least provide the light I needed to see my way through the underground passage….
 
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Mr. Spock saves the Enterprise in Star Trek III and IV.
Emmet leaps off Octan tower to save Bricksburg in The Lego Movie.
Harry Potter defeats Lord Voldemort on more than one occasion.
Gandalf returns to Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn in Fangorn Forest after battling the Balrog.
Aslan died and rose to save Edmund and all of Narnia from the White Witch’s curse.
Beast from Beauty and the Beast. Snow White. Sleeping Beauty. Bagheera’s eulogy for Baloo in the Jungle Book.

There’s a common pattern here; the key to the story or scene is a death and resurrection.

And in these death and resurrection stories we see a glimpse of the greatest death and resurrection story of all time: Jesus Crucified for you and your salvation. Jesus’ death and resurrection is greater because it is both meaningful and true. It is history:  Jesus was crucified, died, buried, and rose again for you. After Paul’ conversion, which is also a death and resurrection story, this was his constant refrain:

I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him Crucified.

The Conversion of Paul is also a death and resurrection story. After all, every time the Holy Spirit creates faith there’s a death and resurrection. Your Baptism is a death and resurrection in Jesus, just as Saul’s was. Christ crucified is our constant refrain as well.

Paul’s death and resurrection story began as he was heading down the road to Damascus breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He had a license to persecute. But suddenly a blinding light knocked him off his horse. Heaven flashed before his eyes. Saul fell to the ground as a dead man. And the voice of Jesus rang out in his ears.

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

Saul probably thought he was going to die. But there’s the irony. Saul was already dead — dead in trespasses and sin as he would later write in Ephesians 2. His mouth was an open grave that spewed forth curses, bitterness, and deceit (Romans 3) against Christ and Christians.

He was blind — spiritually — and for three days physically as well, a real-life object lesson to teach Paul and all of us that faith is a gift, not of works so that no man may boast. On the Damascus road Jesus took all of Saul’s boasting in the Law, confidence in the flesh, and zealotry, and revealed it for the rubbish it truly was.

Saul, who had so violently warred against Jesus and the Way, became utterly and completely dependent, like a newborn infant. Rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do, Jesus said. Saul couldn’t even do that on his own. The men traveling with Saul led him, blind and helpless into Jerusalem, to Ananias.

Saul’s conversion is a marvelous picture of how our Lord converts all of us. Like Saul, we were enemies of God. The wages of our sin is death. We breathe threats and murder against our neighbors. No, probably not with physical violence. But Jesus makes it clear that whenever we hate or despise our brother, we have already murdered them in our hearts.

And though probably haven’t participated in any stoning anyone lately, like Saul at the death of Stephen, no doubt, we’ve tossed more than our fair share of rocks in judgment at our family, friends, even our fellow Christian pilgrims. There’s a little Saul in each of us who delights in doing whatever we think is right, and doing it with great zeal.

Yes, we’re right there on the road with Saul. Enemies of God. Blind. Helpless. Utterly dependent. Dead…and in need of resurrection.

And that’s precisely where our story begins.

You were dead in trespasses and sin (notice the past tense) …But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.

We were blind, but now through Baptism the scales of doubt and unbelief have fallen from our eyes we see Christ your Savior. We were lost in sin, but found forgiven in Jesus’ cross. We were dead but alive in Christ.

In Saul’s conversion, we see our own. We too are utterly dependent upon God’s mercy. Perhaps we haven’t all had a dramatic experience like Saul, but Christ gives us faith in Him the same way: death and resurrection. As Dorothy Sayers once wrote, “There is drama in the dogma.” And there’s nothing more dramatic than Holy Baptism, where Jesus does for us what He did for Saul. Baptism is your Damascus road. Baptism is your death and resurrection. Heaven opens. The Light of the world dispels our darkness, sin, and death. And Jesus raises us to new life as the scales of unbelief fall from our hearts.

After he was taken to Ananias, Saul was given new birth in baptism, and a new name too: Paul.

Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.

What happened on the road to Damascus was nothing short of a miracle. Jesus turned Saul into Paul — an enemy of the Gospel into a bold preacher of the Gospel. Jesus performs the same miracle upon you in Baptism. Our sinful “Saul” self, our Old Adam, as Paul calls him is drowned. And we are raised to new life in Jesus. The font is your Damascus road. You were dead and now you’re resurrected. Like Saul, you receive a new name: Saint. Chosen. Holy. God’s own child.

Rejoice! For the salvation and eternal life won for you by Christ, are delivered to you the same way they were delivered to Paul. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). In Baptism, God saves us through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Jesus feeds us His own body and blood. And as often as we eat the bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Our death and resurrection, like Paul’s, is founded upon the greatest death and resurrection story of all time: Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. This story is both meaningful and true. It is history. Jesus was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. It is a verifiable, falsifiable, and defensible fact. And yet, Jesus’ death and resurrection do not cease to be a good story, one that possesses beauty, meaning, and true hope.

As C.S. Lewis reminds us:

What became Fact was a Myth, that it carries with it into the world of Fact all the properties of a myth. God is more than a god, not less; Christ is more than Balder, not less…We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic…shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us, no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher.  (C.S. Lewis, Myth Became Fact in God in the Dock. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970, p. 67.)

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Rev. Samuel Schuldheisz is pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Huntington Beach CA. Grail Quest Books will be publishing his book, Experiences of an Enchanted Sojourner, later this year, of which the above is a preview. The book will be exploring how images in story reflect the One True Story of Christ. He also writes posts on the Christian faith and story for the website, 1517: The Legacy Project.

The illustrations are by Kasandra Radke, and are also previews of the black & white illustrations that will be included in the book.

Entrances and Exits

Engaging stories — especially those of fantasy and fairy tale — often reminds us of the One True, Great Story. Whenever we read them, the real and the imaginative merge for a time. We bring in our experiences, and receive new ones through the characters. We are changed, transformed even.
Happening upon a journal with enigmatic, entries written by an anonymous traveler, to a loved one, is not so uncommon; it perhaps is an attic, a basement, a used bookshop, an archive away for any of us. The following series by Rev. Sam Schuldheisz is intended to straddle the real and the imaginative. Its models are John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters in this regard. The italicized text is from a found journal; the regular text contain thoughts fitting to the entry by Rev Schuldheisz.
To explain further is to chance breaking the enchantment, as J.R.R. Tolkien might say; beware the watchful dragons, Lewis would warn. What is far more intriguing is what the traveler describes as he experiences through his quest, and how they might be interpreted to us through Christian eyes…

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Dear R,

Springtide Dawn

I have fallen into something like a Dream, yet it is more; all my senses are awake and receptive. I found myself curled up beside a large marble stairway. Before continuing inside, I took in the world that lay around me. The realmscape is vivid. At first I thought I may have finally discovered the great Insula Avallonis. This may yet bear out; the place I find myself is wondrous — an atmosphere more supernal than I was prepared concerning the mythical Insula I have been seeking.

The structure contains one vast spherical chamber. The floor slopes up gently. Vine-like designs accent the edges. A narrow, scarlet strip of fine carpet, hemmed in silver and gold, leads straight on (but I dare not step upon such a royal presentation).

Beams of daylight penetrate through four painted windows, converging upon one remarkable sight: a tree that rises nearly to the apex of the concave ceiling.

The Cloven Tree

The Cloven Tree

The side of the tree that faces me is decrepit, dying. As I walk around, the other side of the tree is full of life, its branches twisting to bathe its leaves in the glittering light beams. The tree exudes a magnificent fragrance comprised of autumn spice and spring flowers and summer fruit, of such a kind that it cuts me to the heart I cannot bottle it for you.

The trunk of the tree is cloven clean through, from its base to about five feet above my head. Flowing upon the ground, “through” the base of the trunk and about the roots, is a stream of clear water with no apparent source; as if the tree were producing the element from within, or perhaps there is an underground spring (yet I can imagine how these might be accomplished so that the tree remains a tree). The water is channeled by way of a groove cut into the floor, about a foot wide, and is directed to the edge of the chamber. It disappears into an opening beneath a slightly raised portion of the floor, to an end I cannot discern.

As I gaze through the gaping hole in the trunk, I perceive what I believe to be a lush countryside; there is a meadow dappled with wild-flowers, bordered by a wood. Further details are obscured, as if I was peering through many veils. I am enchanted. I am compelled to go through…

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Think about how many times we enter and exit places in any given day. Entrances and exits surround our weekly routines: grocery store, school, work, and home. Entrances and exits are also a part of our physical life: by birth we enter; by death we exit. But that is not the final entrance.

For there is also an exit from sin and death in Holy Baptism. Our old sinful nature is drowned and buried and a new nature in Christ arises. That makes Baptism an entrance as well. The font becomes the doorway into the kingdom of God, a new birth by water and the Spirit. In Baptism we exit death and enter into Christ’s death and life for us.

Our Christian life is also full of entrances and exits. Family and friends die and enter eternal rest awaiting the grand entrance of the Resurrection. Baptism gathers God’s children into the ark of the Church and into the arms of Jesus and they’re blessed. We enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise as we kneel in the Holy Place and receive Christ’s body and blood. Heaven enters earth. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross enters our mouth.

Palm Sunday is a day of entrances and exits, for you and for Jesus.

Today Jesus enters the holy city riding atop a prophesied donkey. The crowds wave palm branches and shout the words of Psalm 118:

Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.

Today we join the crowds in this sacred song. Hosanna! Lord, save us.

Jesus entered Jerusalem for you. Jesus is your Hosanna. Jesus comes in the Name of the Lord for you. Jesus enters Jerusalem to save you. It is just as the prophet Zechariah foretold:

“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

Jesus’ life is also one of entrances and exits. Before Jesus entered Jerusalem he entered the home of Mary and Martha. And upon his Word, Lazarus exited the grave.

Before that Jesus entered into a village and healed a blind man so that he could exit the darkness and enter Christ’s life-giving light.

Jesus entered the homes of the sick and the sinners. Jesus entered the synagogues proclaiming that he was the promised Messiah who would give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, raise the dead, and free us from bondage to sin and death – a grand exit.

Jesus entered the towns of Samaria in order to rescue the outcast and outsider.

Jesus entered the wilderness in order to endure temptation for you and rebuke Satan for you, and to tell him to exit his presence at once.

Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan in order to enter into your death as your substitute.

Jesus entered the temple as a 12 year old boy with the Word of God upon his lips.

Jesus entered the temple at eight days old in order to fulfill the entire Law by receiving circumcision and his name, Jesus, for he shall save you from your sins.

Jesus exited the womb of Mary; he entered this world with our human flesh all so that he could make these entrances for you. This is the hour for which he came. Palm Sunday gives way to Good Friday. Palms give way to passion. Triumph gives way to crucifixion.

Entrances and Exits.

Jesus exits Jerusalem and enters the judgment and punishment of our sin. He goes to the cross, to his death, for all the times we’ve entered into sin. There’s no deadly sin we haven’t stuck our noses in. And for all that – the sinner we are and the sin we do – we deserve to be ones entering our graves. But we’re not. Jesus takes your place. Jesus enters Jerusalem and exits it again for you. Jesus enters the cross for you. Jesus exits his last breath for you. Jesus enters the tomb for you. All so that Jesus’ mercy never exits from us, no matter how often we’ve entered into sin.

But Jesus did not stay in the tomb. Jesus exited. He rose. He lives. He enters death and comes out again, taking you and a fallen world with him. And just like Ruth we confess: Where you go, I will go.

Jesus leaves the grave behind. Jesus ascends. Jesus enters the eternal reign of heaven. But Jesus does not leave you alone.

Jesus fills His church, this place, in this – and every place where his word, water, body and blood are given – with all of his life-restoring, sin-forgiving, heaven-opening entrances and exits. The cross of Christ is the key and the door to paradise.

Through all of Jesus’ entrances and exits you are saved and given the guarantee of an exit from death and an entrance into life in Christ.

Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.

Join the crowds and sing Hosannas as we enter the Holy Place and Jesus draws us to himself again. He gathers us around His table, His body, and His blood. His forgiveness of sins and eternal life enter the doorway of our lips. Hosanna! Blessed are you who come in the Name of the Lord!

Indeed, what a joyous reminder that in all the entrances and exits of life, Christ goes ahead of you, Christ goes with you, and Christ goes for you.

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Rev. Samuel Schuldheisz is pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Huntington Beach CA. Grail Quest Books will be publishing his book, Experiences of an Enchanted Sojourner, later this year, of which the above is a preview.

The illustrations are by Kasandra Radke, and are also previews of the black & white illustrations that will be included in the book.